Ecstatic Dance in London
Updated: Jun 20
Ecstatic Dance is the practice of free expression of movement and dance without the use of drugs or alcohol. There are no routines or steps to learn; it is about using breath and awareness to bring attention to the body and to move freely to music. The aim is to turn off the chatter of the ‘monkey mind’, release stuck emotional energy held in the body, experience freedom and connect to a deeper sense of self. Being in community is at the heart of the experience.
Ecstatic dance, or something resembling it, has existed throughout history, including in the times of the Greeks with the worship of Dionysus, the god of wine, to induce states of ecstasy. The mystical expression of both Islam (Sufism) and Judaism (Hasidism) both contain ecstatic dance practices, and there is evidence that early Christians also engaged in ecstatic activity.
Binding Groups Together
Ecstatic Dance is also akin to the ancient practice of Shamanism across the globe whereby rhythmic drumming and dancing are used to alter states of consciousness. In her book, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, Barbara Ehrenreich says that collective and ecstatic dancing is almost a universal ‘biotechnology’ for binding groups together, partly because communication solely by speech is insufficient at expressing the realm of emotions.
Ecstatic Dance, 5 Rhythms Dance and Movement Medicine
In the northern Christian world from about 1600 A.D., carnival and ecstatic dance experiences were wiped out for several centuries by the organised Church, the emergence of capitalism and social control. It was only after the countercultural revolution in the 1960s (Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Peace, Environmentalism), that ecstatic or trance dance re-emerged in the West. 5 Rhythms dance founded by Gabrielle Roth is where Ecstatic Dance finds it modern lineage.
Ecstatic Dance, 5 Rhythms and Movement Medicine (another spinoff of conscious dance) were developed in the UK in the 1980s, and particularly in the last 10 years there has been an increasing number of conscious dance events.
A Typical Ecstatic Dance
A typical Ecstatic Dance session will last about 2 hours. At the beginning of some Ecstatic Dance events participants will be offered the chance to drink Cacau (like cocoa but the beans are fermented and not roasted) in a short ceremony.
The dancing then begins with a warm up. This is an overt invitation to bring attention to your moving body; the music will be slow, and you will start to connect your movement and breath with the beat. Some of the session will take place with eyes shut; the idea is to go inside and become present with yourself: thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations.
Ecstatic Awakening Dance
In the form of Ecstatic Dance that I trained in (Ecstatic Awakening Dance) participants are taught a simple body shaking movement (‘The Shake’) as a shortcut to letting go of all the stress and tension we hold in our bodies.
Trusting the Movement
The tempo of the music will increase as the session progresses; often ethnic or tribal is played. There is no talking and the dance is generally done with bare feet. Sometimes people dance with others, sometimes on their own. It might look like people are out of their heads (they’re not) or somewhat insane (they’re not). They are losing inhibition and trusting the movement that they find their body making.
A Sense of Wellbeing
At the end of an Ecstatic Dance session, the music will become slower and more peaceful. People are invited to lie on the floor, and there might be a meditation. This is a chance for ‘integration’; to catch up with yourself and all the activity of the session. At the very end, everyone will gather in a circle. The experience can make a profound difference to our sense of wellbeing.
Ecstatic Dance in London
In a typical week, London might be hosting 2 or 3 Ecstatic Dance events, but it is growing. In the same way that Yoga used to be seen as alternative and niche but is now available almost everywhere in the UK, Ecstatic or conscious dance looks set for the same course.
People are aware of the increasingly stressful times that we live in; loneliness and isolation are rife, and mental health problems and obesity are on the increase. Many people want to find meaningful ways of connecting with other people, engage in exercise more soulful than going to the gym, find healthy ways to cope with stress and improve wellbeing, and perhaps reach beyond their normal states of consciousness without taking drugs. Enter Ecstatic Dance!
Look out for Ecstatic East, usually at the Fisheries, London Fields.
Fancy knowing more? We have plenty of info’ on the website or you can even book a session of Flomotion and give it a go…